“I have murdered the lovely and the helpless; I have strangled the innocent as they slept, or grasped to death his throat who never injured me or any other living thing. I have devoted my creator, the select specimen of all that is worthy of love and admiration among men, to misery; I have pursued him even to that irremediable ruin. There he lies, white and cold in death. You hate me; but your abhorrence cannot equal that with which I regard myself. I look on the hands which executed the deed; I think on the heart in which the imagination of it was conceived, and long for the moment when these hands will meet my eyes, when that imagination will haunt my thoughts no more.”
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley wrote her famous novel, Frankenstein; or the new Prometheus, no more than a stone`s throw away from where I live in the historic Thames side town of Marlow. I have not only walked and driven past the picturesque and unassuming cottage she shared with Percy Bysshe Shelley on countless occasions, but once had the privilege to go inside. That`s another story.
The first thing that flashes through most people`s mind when Frankenstein is mentioned is Boris Karloff resplendent with bolts through neck and slow, zombie like movements; or Peter Boyle`s improved model from Mel Brook`s humorous pastiche.
Mary Shelley was a remarkable woman, even in a time of remarkable people; not least because her mother was Mary Wollstonecraft, one of the founding mothers of the Feminist Revolution. She grew up in a household of free thinkers, where absolutely no subject was off limits to question, to dissect or form an opinion. The fact that at 19 years old she published one of the greatest books of the imagination ever written, and which is still considered classic literature today, should not come as a surprise.
What of the book?
It`s a dark tale of creation, retribution and destruction. It begins and ends in the unforgiving Arctic wastes where Viktor Frankenstein is tracking his nemesis, the creature his overweening intellectual hubris had created, and which had destroyed everything in his life he had once held dear and loved. All his life Frankenstein had been obsessed with life from death. He creates life from dead spare parts, but instead of being overjoyed at his success, he is overwhelmed with disgust and self loathing at what he has made; he abandons his creation and flees. The monster`s initial feelings of rejection also turn to self loathing at the realisation of what he was; and so, full of hatred towards his maker, he hunts him down to plead for Frankenstein to create a mate to share his miserable life with. Frankenstein agrees, but when he quickly renege`s on the deal, the monster kills everyone that Viktor loves……………………
“It is well. I go; but remember, I shall be with you on your wedding-night.”
…………….Including his wife. Even when the creature rapes her before murdering her, it`s as if he is expressing his creator`s own dark, suppressed desires; the creature is yearning for companionship, love and an aching need for a female counterpart. The only way to express these feelings is to hurt everything Viktor loves, even as it`s destroying it`s own embittered soul in the process.
Frankenstein declares war on the monster and follows him to the ends of the earth to seek his revenge………” I sweep to my revenge.”
As he walks the earth, the creature discovers a rhapsodic joy of how beautiful nature is. There is a female critique of male usurpation of divinity throughout Mary Shelley`s text, as she asks us who is the real monster; the disfigured, physically repulsive creature, or Frankenstein himself who took the responsibility of creation upon himself. What is life? It not only asks who is worthy of humanity and mercy, but are we doing God`s work by assuming the divinity of creation, or by showing abhorrent moral behaviour?
It`s a story of mankind tampering with matters perhaps best reserved for nature and God, and the vanity of humanity attempting to improve on perfection.